Malta’s review under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – (1) Shadow Reports

This is the first of two articles bring you information on Malta’s review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In this article we’re looking at shadow reports submitted by civil society organisations and other stakeholders, whilst in the second article we’ll be summarising the Committee’s Concluding Observations on Malta.

What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

On 20 November 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which came into force on 2 September 1990. This Convention is composed of 41 articles and guarantees children of State Parties rights, separately from adulthood, that are classified in different themes.

Indeed, the Convention provides children survival rights (e.g. the right to life and basic needs such as nutrition or medical services), development rights (e.g. education, play, culture, freedom of thought, conscience or religion), protection rights (e.g. protecting children against exploitation, harm, neglect, abuse, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, protection in employment) and participation rights (e.g. freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly).

Thus, “the world’s most widely ratified human rights treaty in history” provides children until the age of 18 a special protected time, “in which (they) must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity”.

How can we check what States are doing with the Convention?

Monitoring of the implementation of the Convention by State Parties is led by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. It is composed of 18 independent experts elected for a term of four years by States Parties to the CRC. It also monitors the implementation of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, on involvement of children in armed conflict, and about the communications procedures that allows children to have access to effective remedies when their rights have been violated.

Two years after acceding to the Convention, States must present a comprehensive report on the national status on rights of the child, following which periodic reports must be submitted every five years. For each reporting cycle, civil society organisations and other stakeholders may send ‘shadow reports’ to the Committee, supplementing or presenting alternative information to the State reports.

Indeed, while State reports often highlight progress of the State, shadow reports provide the Committee with crucial information about obstacles and problems identified in the implementation of obligations by the State.

What did civil society organisations say about Malta in their 2019 shadow reports?

A number of different civil society organizations and other stakeholders submitted their shadow reports to the Committee, addressing different themes: breastfeeding, pretrial detention time for children and intersex genital mutilation.

Breastfeeding

One of the issues addressed relates to breastfeeding, and particularly on the situation of infant and young child feeding in Malta. The International Baby Food Action Network (IFBAN) identified obstacles and problems in that concern in Malta.

Among others, they pointed out that in Malta there were an important lack of data which renders surveys difficult to establish. Moreover, it highlighted a limited implementation of the national policy, as for the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Beside this partial implementation, the report states that there is no systematic monitoring and sanctioning mechanism for these obligations.

Moreover, it pointed out that Malta did not ratify the International Labour Organization Convention C183, which is the Maternity Protection Convention. The latter provides rules for the adoption of national legislation for the promotion of safety and health of the child and the mother, as the protection for pregnancy or maternity benefits.

Consequently, the IFBAN took the opportunity to make several recommendations. Among others, it highlighted the need of a systematic collection of data on breastfeeding, and on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices and the need to allocate more funding to strengthen information campaign on IYCF. It also mentions the need of an extension of the length of the fully-paid maternity leave, and the need to ratify the ILO Convention 183.

Finally, it also recommends Malta to fully integrate into national law all provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and to set up an independent monitoring system of Code violations and sanctions for Code violators.

Pretrial detention times for children

Juvenile Justice Advocates International (JJAI) highlighted issues that were not raised in the State report and pointed out where the Government was misleading in terms or pretrial detention times for children. Indeed, the circumstances in which children can be placed in detention while they await trial or under pre-charge are strictly limited by international law, and JJAI underlined that important gaps remain in Malta.  

In 2018, the report Children in Pretrial Detention: Promoting Stronger International Time limits studied how long countries allow children to be detained awaiting trial. This report found that 26% of countries have no time limit. Juvenile Justice Advocates found that Malta was part of this percentage, lacking a determined pretrial detention limit. Consequently, JJAI recommends that Malta should start working towards a 30-day maximum period for children detained while awaiting trial and that children should be placed in supervised release after the statutory maximum number of days, instead of being re-detained. 

Intersex Genital Mutilations (IGM)  

The shadow report Human Rights Violations of Children with Variations of Reproductive Anatomy established by StopIGM identified issues concerning intersex genital mutilation (IGM) practices, which remain persistent in Malta.

It highlighted that despite the Gender Expression and Sex Characteristic Act of 2015, the current legislation contains comparatively weak sanctions. In addition, there are no effective legal or other protection mechanisms (domestic and overseas) to prevent IGM practices, the law contains legal loopholes and lacks enforcement. This report also highlights the lack of data collection on IGM practices and issues recommendations.

The report calls for a criminalization or adequate sanctions for unnecessary medical or surgical treatment during infancy or childhood, including extraterritorial protection. It also recommends adequate compensation and as full rehabilitation as possible for the victims of these acts, as well as a systematic collection of disaggregated date on harmful practices.

EU Fundamental Rights Agency

It is important to mention that the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), published the Selection of rights of the child passages from published reports related to Malta report. In this report, it indicates that Malta was part of a number of EU Member States that have not fully banned corporal punishment to protect children from physical violence within the family or in institutions.

FRA research has also shown that the way children are recognized as rights-holders differs across the EU. Age requirements can also be arbitrary and inconsistent, potentially limiting child rights.

Conclusion

Together with the above shadow reports, Malta-based Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM) also submitted a report outlining a number of issues – positive and negative. This is not covered here as we wanted to highlight those reports originated from outside Malta…the PHROM report is freely available for download.

In our next article we’ll be sharing the Committee’s Concluding Observations on Malta, highlighting those issues relevant to our on-going advocacy work in rights of the child. Although we do not specialise in this sector, it is relevant for our work with migrants and refugees, the LGBTIQ+ community, reproductive rights and access to justice.

We hope that by sharing these articles you are better-informed of those processes in place to secure higher levels of protection for your human rights in Malta.

If you’d like to know more, just get in touch with us.


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